Leading the way

TEMPE, Ariz. - If Clemson pitching coach Kyle Bunn asked pitcher Matt Vaughn to go stand on his head in the middle of the pitching mound, the senior would do it with no questions asked.

"That's who he is," Bunn said.

And that's why Vaughn is the leader of this young Clemson baseball, which will play Arizona State (47-12) this weekend in a best-of-three Super Regional series which starts Saturday at 9 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time) in Tempe.

"He just does whatever I ask him to do," Bunn said. "That's what makes him a special player. Because he is in total commitment in whatever I'm asking him to do."

What the Tigers (44-20) asked Vaughn to do this past Monday was go win the game when three costly errors allowed Oklahoma State to build a 5-1 lead in the seventh inning. But Vaughn was able to put those errors behind him by inducing a line drive to second base which Mike Freeman turned into a double play to end the inning and stop the bleeding.

When Kyle Parker lined a single into left field to drive home the tying and go-head runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, Vaughn came in and closed the door and did it by striking out Oklahoma State's Mark Ginther in three pitches.

"That was awesome," Vaughn said. "You could not script it any better just with how bad the season started this year with the shoulder and then to come back and be able to strike him out and end my career at Clemson that way. That was a dream come true."

That dream seemed to be a nightmare at the start of the season when shoulder surgery slowed his progress down. So much in fact, there was a time when Vaughn and the coaching staff wondered if he would be able to get back in time to help the team out.

"It has basically been a tough road for him," Bunn said. "He has had to battle through some adversity by not being as healthy as he would have wanted to have been. We wanted him to be a little bit healthier than what he was, but we can't rush the human body on what it wants to do.

"It is at a certain places and it is only going to progress as fast as it can and because of that it has been a tough road because he wanted to be back and in better shape a little bit sooner than what he was. We have had to take each day one at time and as of late he has taken that adversity he battled with early in the season and used it as motivation to be as strong as he can be for us here at the end."

He has been almost like money for the Tigers during a run that has seen them win 15 of the last 20 games heading into this weekend's series. Since the ACC Tournament, he has made four appearances and has a 0.00 ERA. For the season he has 23 strikeouts and a 2.30 ERA, while compiling a 4-1 record in relief.

"He is the backbone of this pitching staff," Clemson head coach Jack Leggett said. "He is the reason why we are mentally tough."

That's the reason why Leggett named Vaughn a co-MVP, along with Freeman, shortly after the season got started.

"He is a tremendous leader and is tremendously loyal," Leggett said. "He bleeds orange. He is a guy you wanted on the mound in the last home game with the game on the line. It could not have worked out any better. If I had scripted a scenario two or three years ago, that's how I would have wanted it to end."

Vaughn takes a more modest approach to what his head coach says. He understands he does offer leadership qualities but that's because he is one of two remaining players held over from the 2006 team which made it all the way to the College World Series.

"I think I'm just old. We don't have that many old people here," he joked. "It is just kind of me and (Ryan) Hinson. We are kind of the only guys that have been here. We were on the Omaha team back in the day and there are a bunch of new guys and a bunch of new faces. They have all just come in so I think I have just fallen into that role because I have been here the longest. It is sort of by default."

Not so says Leggett.

"He is a battler. He is tough," the Clemson coach said. "He has been a leader. He is a captain. He is one of those guys that comes around all the time. He has leadership qualities. He has a lot of friends on the team, but he doesn't care what they think of him because it's more important for him to win.

"He will do whatever I ask him to do or straighten out anyone or whatever has to happen. He is my go-to guy. I can say 'Matt take care of this and he will say, yes sir I got it. Matt, keep an eye on that. And he will say yes Sir I gotcha.' He is just that kind of guy."

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